The Scriptural Basis for a Seventh-day Adventist Philosophy of Pastoral Care

The Scriptural Basis for a Seventh-day Adventist Philosophy of Pastoral Care

Study of the processes of counsel­ing can aid the city pastor to a more effective work for Christ.

W. JOHN CANNON, Pastor, Potomac Conference

The term counseling among Seventh-day Adventists is not yet universally accepted, much less a defined concept or philos­ophy in this field. Scientific research in areas of psychology related to the work of the ministry is proving to us that the Word of God is never out of date. Basic principles given in its writ­ings for meeting human needs, satisfy the soul hunger of this century better than any plan of human devising. Yet we should not despise the efforts of men in seeking approaches to the woe of mankind. Study of the processes of counsel­ing can aid the city pastor to a more effective work for Christ.

Because of well-defined implications, many Adventists are wary of the term psychology; yet if rightly understood, it is a science that is foundational to every approach we make in strengthening our methods. To do an effective work in education, in gospel salesmanship, in evangelistic procedures, in advertising, we need to know something of the reactions of the hu­man mind. Concern has been felt that the term counselor might designate one as a follower of one of the exponents of some particular theory, such as Freud, Adler, Jung, Dewey, or the like; and many of these theories are based on premises unacceptable to the Biblicist, who believes that the Bible in its entirety is the inspired Word of God. It is here readily admitted that there are today an increasing number of ministers who proceed to counseling guided by rational­istic ideas and find no conflict with their reli­gious faith. They are modernistic in interpret­ing the Scriptures, hence rationalism does not trouble them.

Such is not the view presented here. It is contended that counseling is the province and duty of everyone called to shepherd the flock. Adventists reject categorically every view that finds itself at variance with God's Word, but they also recognize that any knowledge that assists in knowing and understanding better the men and women for whom they work contributes to a more effective work in saving the lost for Christ. It is not a professional department of pastoral ministry, it is pastoral ministry.

All who are pastors are counselors. They are counselors when meeting some seeking soul ask­ing, as did the rich young ruler, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" They are counselors when some Pharisee, like Nicodemus, has to be shown that the new birth goes much beyond the formalistic observance of coded laws. They are counselors when someone burdened with in­curable physical infirmity, like the woman of gospel days, seeks some ray of hope. They are counselors when a Christian's faith is shaken at the passing of a loved one, or when critical marital problems arise, or a man loses his em­ployment, or financial crises come. The work of the ministry is counseling. Nor should we be afraid of the term, for Isaiah's prophetic picture of the coming Messiah was that His name should be called "Wonderful, Counsellor." Some translations render it "Wonderful Counselor."

I am not seeking a title to fit the work that is being done, but it seems to me that it is fitting that the work of His faithful servants should be called counseling after the pattern of the Wonderful Counselor. True it is that modern "discoveries" of psychological methods are of great help, especially to the pastor in a large city, but the more he learns the more he appreciates that, basically, all that is worthwhile finds its roots in practice, illustration, and ex­ample within the covers of the Book of books. The best study we have in this area is in the life and ministry of the Wonderful Counselor.

But that does not dispense with training. As surely as we sharpen our theological tools on the anvil of intensive academic study in the Seminary, so surely do we need to improve our ability to use those tools by careful preparation in theory and practice as we study the way to men's hearts and minds. Experience helps, but even this cannot take the place of special train­ing to meet the needs of the emotional wrecks from the moral collapse of the great cities. This study seeks to show how we are filling this role by applying the instruction the Lord has given us.

What Is Counseling?

We have not attempted to define counseling. It is here that we come against a problem. There is an increasing volume of literature about pastoral counseling. There is a fair amount on objectives, procedures, et cetera, but definitions change with changing philosophy. It is reported that while speaking to a group of pastors in New York City, Dr. Leslie Weatherhead once said that "counseling is the untwisting of a tangled life." To the Adventist it is much more than that, unless we can read into this definition the eternal issues. Some may count their work well done if they can administer a sufficient number of psychological pills to stimulate a broken life to carry on. The Adventist counselor has his eye on an eternal destiny. His work is not to patch up a broken machine, but to save a soul.

It is considered better to outline here the work of counseling to indicate its inclusiveness, rather than to make it exclusive by some sen­tence definition. In my understanding, pastoral counseling is the work of the pastor.

  1. Inspiring confidence and faith.
  2. Pointing men to the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world.
  3. Establishing right relationships.
  4. Encouraging positive thinking, dwelling on noble thoughts (Phil. 4:8).
  5. Casting out sinful fears by divine love.
  6. Comforting the sick, bereaved, and dis­couraged.
  7. Being the understanding friend to the lonely.
  8. Leading men and women to see the exceed­ing sinfulness of sin—to be positive by contrast.
  9. Sharing with others a vital Christian ex­perience.
  10. Showing that the only way to lasting happiness is in pursuing righteousness.
  11. Introducing counselees to the wonderful blessing of the friendship of Christ.
  12. Denying egocentrism to persuade men that peace is found in complete surrender of the will to Christ.
  13. Recognizing the true value of a soul.
  14. Teaching all that no man liveth unto himself—we need the brotherhood of the gospel.

You may say this includes all pastoral minis­try. And this is our conviction. Can you think of one point that is not indeed pastoral counseling? You will see at once that such work is not con­fined to the private interview, but is a work in which the pastor can never be off duty. It is a work that will be carried on in the pulpit, office, home, in visiting the sick, at committee and board meetings. When one understands that counseling is based on relationships and com­munication, its effectiveness is recognized.

Perhaps here we should make some state­ment of what counseling is not. It is not the assuming of expert authority on matters out­side one's province. The counselor is not a doctor, lawyer, or banker. Neither is he a priest in the confessional. He is not the psychologist. He does not accept rationalistic philosophies that try to see in environmental factors the stimuli that produce the various kinds of re­sponse. The Adventist counselor appreciates the place and power of the will, often overriding both cultivated and inherited tendencies. More than that, he knows the power of God in lifting fallen man. Recognizing that man is not at the mercy of every shifting wind that blows can inspire men to resolute action. We have the record of the noble example of those who have become great in spite of, not because of, circum­stances.

To add one further negative, counseling is not meeting problems, but meeting the sense of inadequacy, frustration, anxiety, and guilt that arise out of the problems. One man may face mountains of difficulty only to see in each hard­ship a challenge to his ability. He turns obstacles into steppingstones to success. The apostle Paul could recite a list of persecutions that would defeat many an individual. There are others who succumb to a few problems and seem over­whelmed with anxiety and go down to destruc­tion. Such a case is that of Judas. One great temptation and he was lost!

But now to turn to the scriptural basis for this kind of counseling within our ranks.

The Entrance of Sin

As soon as man sinned he needed a counselor. After the first moment of the thrill of defiance, new and strange emotions took possession of him. Sin was a new experience, and its tragic consequences were not yet rightly understood. Hence it may be too strong to suggest that he was taken with the dread of anxiety. Yet he confessed he was afraid. This was the first direct result of sin. That fear must have increased with passing months and years as the story of death and decay began to unfold.

Before the entrance of sin, man had free and unhindered communication with God. The re­lationship of love left no room for the cancer of anxiety to spread its deadly roots. Sin brought fear, fear strengthened into anxiety with its concomitants of worry, frustration, jealousy, and evil surmisings. Man was in need, yet hardly realized what he needed, and of God he was afraid.

Contrary to what many psychologists think is the good method, God came looking for man, searching for him in the garden. There is room for thought on this point. Most assuredly, the counselor must be patient and win the con­fidence of the one needing help. He must avoid pushing his services, but he must also consider the ones that need seeking out.

God sought to clarify the situation by help­ing man to face the realities of the situation, but also He gave His assurance of the plan of redemption. The means of atonement was por­trayed by the vicarious sacrifices. In them Adam saw the terrible consequence of sin, but it was overlaid with the love of God in providing substitutionary sacrifice. A new means of com­munication was set up, and a plan for the res­toration of the lost relationship. In the un­folding of the plan by the angels commissioned of Heaven, man saw that his inadequacy would be made up by the provisions of divine grace. Right here is an important difference between the Bible and Adventist philosophy, and the rationalists. God dispelled man's fears and gave him comfort and hope, not by increasing self-confidence or releasing repression, but by teach­ing utter dependence on divine power.

Man's sin had brought changes primarily in the area of relationships and communication. The penalties of sin came because of the changed relationships. It was not the physical result of eating the fruit that brought death and disaster, but the fact that this made man a transgressor of God's law and a rebel against Heaven. In that first "interview" God provided a new means of communication. He assured Adam and Eve of a wonderful hope of complete restoration. He revealed the plan of love that would bring Calvary to break the domination of evil. He helped them to see not only the situation in its true perspective but also the way through.


We have noticed that the first direct result of sin was fear. It is necessary to point out that behind a very large proportion of the world's troubles lies the threatening hand of fear. We shall confine our discussion to the relationship of counseling to fear and its closest allies anx­iety and worry.

Before proceeding to deal with the negative challenge fear makes to the counselor, we should not fail to say that fear has positive values producing a beneficial effect upon the in­dividual.

Fear can be a help. The positive values of fear do not seem to be recognized by many psychologists. But the Bible deliberately uses fear. When to Adam, God said, "The day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die," there was certainly an attempt to make the fear of the consequences a preventive against disobedi­ence. If our first parents had been as fearful as the tragic warning should have made them, there would not have been sin.

When the Sacred Writings graphically por­tray in frightening terms the outpouring of the seven last plagues and the final end of the wicked in consuming fires, it is intended to instill fear of this sure reward, that man might avoid such penalty. It is a healthy thing to face the realities. Clarifying the situation does not mean glossing over the truth. Experience shows that facing the facts as they are, is often a big step toward uprooting the dread of anxiety.

A child is taught to fear fire, to prevent his being burned. An understanding that water holds dangers may prevent drowning. The law must be feared to make good citizens. With our understanding beclouded by six thousand years of sin, fear can serve a useful purpose, but un­controlled, it becomes a monster bent on destruc­tion. From this point on, having recognized this side of the picture, we will discuss fear only in its destructive sense, as the prime source of troubles facing the counselor.

To give us some idea of the widespread prev­alence of fear problems, we shall briefly enu­merate the kinds of fear.

There is the fear of the future. Cain, when told of the result of his murder, protested, "My punishment is greater than I can bear. . . . I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass that every one that findeth me shall slay me" (Gen. 4:13, 14). He was afraid of the future.

Then there is the fear of the past. David, thinking of his past sin, cried out in agony of spirit, "Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me."

There is a superstitious fear. It was this kind of fear that often led Israel into idolatry, fol­lowing the surrounding nations. It was this that prompted the psalmist to recommend, "Com­mit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him" (Ps. 37:5).

Another aspect of fear has to do with crises. How many are the beautiful promises of divine help for these emergencies. "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee" (Isa. 43:2).

One of the prevalent forms of fear is the fear of being found out. This is the source of black­mail and some of the ugliest of sins. It tortures the victim with indescribable torments. A few weeks ago a young man came to my office. He said he was an escaped convict. He was in agony of spirit, and at every little creaking sound he almost jumped out of his seat. He felt at every moment that the police had caught up with him. He could not be still. What a terrible fear it is to always be on the watch lest one be found out. The writer of psalm 32 tells his experience: "Day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer."

We could mention the fear of life, the fear of death, the fear of being old, the fear of sick­ness, and other fears. This gives us a glimpse of the far-reaching tentacles of fear.

Not only is fear wide in its scope but it reaches the vast majority of individuals. Coun­seling needs a remedy for fear more than for any other ailment affecting mind, soul, or body. In this age this psychological ill is especially prevalent. In his book Faith Can Master Fear Thomas says:

"Fear of the future plagues almost everyone who lives in this generation. We wish life might be dif­ferent, we say, but the world looks dark. Rich or poor, highly educated or ignorant, American or Rus­sian—we fear the future. In these moments when we are given to wishful thinking we long for some miracle to dispel the shadows."—Page 20.

The Adventist concept of the close relation­ship between mind and body is a great help in meeting the challenge of fear. This understand­ing derived from the teachings of Christ attacks not the symptoms but the root cause. Fear pro­duces physical disability. Dr. George Crile illus­trates it this way:

"They may be likened to an automobile with the clutch thrown out, but the whole engine is racing at full speed. The gasoline is being consumed, and the machinery is being worn, but the machine as a whole does not move, though the power of it may cause it to tremble."—Quoted in Faith Can Master Fear, p. 151.

Fear produces severe physical strain until the strain becomes unendurable. Medicine sup­plies sedatives to relieve the excited nervous ten­sion. The psychologist attacks the mental and physical aspects. But it takes the consecrated Christian with the full knowledge of Bible principles to bring the real healing of body, mind, and soul. The Adventist knows that only the presence of the Holy Spirit can give the peace that passeth all understanding. This the world cannot give, but once fully accepted, it garrisons the heart against these assaults of the enemy.

(Concluded next month)

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W. JOHN CANNON, Pastor, Potomac Conference

July 1956

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